Photo: Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking at a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, President Trump headed to a rally in Phoenix. While there, he blamed the media for the Charlottesville controversy, promised to pardon controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and promised to shut down the government if it did not pay for a wall on the US’s southern border. Phoenix’s mayor implored Trump not to come, saying that the political climate was too charged for the rally to be anything but divisive. All the same, Donald Trump came to Phoenix and brought protesters and supporters out into the Arizona sun in droves.
At the rally Trump made two newsworthy claims that seemed crafted to electrify his base: First, Trump teased at pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Arizona sheriff has a controversial national reputation, widely disliked for potentially doing large damage to the Latinx communities in Phoenix, but also beloved by some on the right for his tough stance on immigration. The Hill’s Jeffrey Crouch notes that a few things would make an Arpaio pardon odd. Crouch notes it would be unusually early in the presidency for Trump to make a pardon, it would be a pardon for a surprisingly controversial figure, and it would pardon a man who might not even go to jail.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is famous for instituting an incredibly hard-line immigration policy. Arpaio focused so intensely on immigration that investigations into other serious crimes waned. Furthermore, the intense focus relied on racial profiling, according to federal investigators who demanded Arpaio cease his immigration policy. Arpaio was charged with, and convicted of, contempt of court for continuing his policing on immigration. It is remains unclear if the conviction will actually put the former sheriff behind bars. Arpaio fiercely supported Trump during the presidential election, and Arpaio’s legal defense team has said it would welcome a pardon from the President.
Second, Trump promised that he would shut down the government if the upcoming budget did not include payment for the border wall. With how hard Trump pushed for the wall during his campaign, abandoning it would look very bad to many in his base. It might not have been strange to some that Trump promised the wall would be funded, but it was strange to many that he threatened a government shut down over it. The threat seemed aimed at what President Trump called, “obstructionist Democrats,” but the issue for Trump is that Democrats have little to do with it – as NYMag notes . Republicans have control of all chambers of government currently and so a shut down would purely reflect divisions on the right.
Outside of the rally there was a standoff between supporters and protesters that has now become so common to metropolitan Trump rallies, that it is assumed even if it is not directly mentioned. According to Arizona newspaper AZ Central, this standoff stayed relatively peaceful during the rally, with police separating the two crowds and the crowds separating themselves. Once the rally ended some violence broke loose as police pushed protesters back with stun grenades, pepper spray, and other gasses. Jeri Williams, head of the Phoenix Police Department, defends the action as necessary and a response to protesters growing unruly and throwing bottles and stones at the police barricade. Many in the protest claim that the police actions made for more chaos than order.
Fittingly, Trump spoke of Charlottesville at the rally, but mostly as a means to attack the media for unfair coverage of his presidency. All the while, under the deep, desert heat an all-too-familiar social, political, and cultural clash played out around him.